Jim Lister spoke to Kokoroko’s Onome Edgeworth (Percussion), Ayo Salawu (Drums) and Tobi Adenaike (Guitar) on his 1BTN show before their February gig at Concorde 2 in Brighton. Photo: Nina Manandhar.
How are you doing guys?
O: Great, thanks.
Thank you so much for making the trip over after your soundcheck, I bet you’ve had a bit of a hectic day.
O: It wasn’t too bad actually, quite a late start today. We’ve had a lot of early mornings recently, Brighton’s local.
A: One of our shortest drives here, it’s been nice and easy.
Did you come down from London today?
And you’re currently on a UK/European tour?
O: Yeah, we’re midway through. It’s France and the UK, so a lot of France dates and then a sweep of England and Scotland.
Have you played London yet?
T: Yeah, we did The Roundhouse last week, on Tuesday.
How was that?
T: It was incredible.
The highlight of the tour?
O: I won’t say that, Paris hasn’t come yet and Paris is amazing as well. I’m a North Londoner, I used to go to The Roundhouse as a kid. And the fact that we sold it out, it’s kind of mind-blowing. I was walking through the corridors I was in as a 16-year-old, and all those people there for us, it was mad.
I’ve been to a few gigs at the Roundhouse… I remember Q-Tip played there about 10 years ago?
O: I remember that!
And then he did an after-party in Shoreditch somewhere DJing?
O: Yeah, in a random warehouse.
Yeah, it was a crazy night. The Roundhouse must have been incredible. So, are you from Camden?
O: No, I’m from Wood Green, Arsenal boy.
We won’t get into football then… you all support Arsenal?
T: Yeah man, all Arsenal, North London.
Man, I’m surrounded. So, we definitely won’t be getting into football!
So tonight, you’re playing at The Concorde 2 in Brighton, have you played there before?
A: No, we’ve never, this is our first time.
Have you played Brighton before?
Well, we’re in for a treat then. I believe the gig tonight is a sell-out, so you’re doing alright.
O: Yeah, we’ve been lucky man. Every UK date is sold out at the moment, it’s crazy exciting for us. We’ve put a lot of work in and it’s the first time we’re seeing that people actually listen to us!
Well, I have you guys down as a bit of an enigma, because you’ve released 4 tracks in total, is that right?
T: Yeah, that’s right.
And one of those tracks has got 35.5 million views on YouTube?
T: Yeah, that song is called Abusey Junction.
How did that happen? That’s incredible.
A: Well our guitarist Oscar Jerome, who grew the band for about 4 or 5 years, he wrote the tune while he was in Gambia, the band rearranged it and we put it out on Brownswood as a collective album, with what’s going on in the London jazz-influenced scene and that’s where that song was. We didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did, so we know that a lot of people who have found out about Kokoroko, found out through that piece of music so we’re very grateful for that.
It’s one of those tunes. I’ve got it on the We Out Here compilation that came out a couple of years ago, on Brownswood, Gilles Peterson curated it, all about the thriving young jazz scene in London; with people like Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya, Maisha. And you’ve got the last track on the album. And for me, the comp is full of amazing music but it’s all about your track, Abusey Junction. It’s one of those tunes that seems to permeate. I was in Brussels last year, on a bit of a boys weekend away, and I was in a bar on a Saturday night in Brussels and Abusey Junction was playing. Are you big in Belgium?
O: Weirdly, yeah. We don’t know why, but I think it’s the first place we went and we had a massive crowd, bigger than London! I think the young people in Belgium are really up for the UK/London jazz scene and they really come out for all of us.
And the We Out Here compilation was early 2018 I think, then March last year your debut EP came out called Kokoroko, with 4 tracks, we’ve heard two of them already: Uman and Adwa. We’re gonna play Ti-de too… what language is that?
O: Creole. Sheila our band leader is from Sierra Leone and there’s a lot of English in Creole so Ti-de is their way of saying ‘Today’.
I didn’t know that. And where does the name Kokoroko come from?
O: Kokoroko is Yoruba but it’s also used in Ghana. Yoruba is a Nigerian language.
What else did I wanna ask you… our time is short, you guys probably need to have dinner and then do the show…
O: Fish and chips man
Where are you going for fish and chips?
O: I don’t know man, any recommendations?
Honestly yes, my local chippy in Hove… Wolfies is the place. I had a band called Mildlife over from Australia last year and they asked, “Where can we get the best fish and chips?” and I was like “Just come with me”.
How’s 2020 looking for you, because I’m really hoping, as a fan, that there’s an album coming?
T: There might be if you’re lucky. 2020 is looking busy for us at the moment, we’ve got a lot of dates and stuff, and we’re also trying to get the album done so it’s gonna be a really good year for us hopefully.
Can you tell us please, how the band came together?
O: Me and Sheila were in Kenya together with Tyrone, who’s actually not in the band but he’s playing with us tonight. So, a group of us were in Kenya and we’re playing music and sharing stuff whilst we’re there, Sheila was there as a painter and I was there just working on a project.
When was this?
O: This was about 5 years ago. Anyways, we’re talking about music and talking about different gigs and about African music in London and kind of how sometimes it’s pretty disappointing, how there was a disconnect especially with young West Africans and traditional African music, you never saw any of us at those shows and often not even on stage. This is our music and we don’t even go to listen to it or enjoy it and we’re kind of not even in those spaces. So Sheila just said we should start a band, She played a lot at that time, and we got back and she kind of got our band together, she phoned me and called my bluff. I wasn’t expecting to even touch music again at that point. We did our first gig at Good Evening Arts in Deptford and slowly got a few more gigs, the band grew into something we took a bit more seriously and a couple of years later we gave it a name, new people came in like Tobi, Ayo. We’ve had a load of drummers, like six or seven over the years.
That’s really interesting… I’m lucky to have done a fair bit of travelling in my life but one place I’ve never been, that I’ve wanted to go for so many years, is Africa. I’ve been to Morocco, but my best mate is from Nigeria so I’d love to go to Lagos, but anywhere… South Africa… I just need to go, it’s in me. One day!
O: Yeah do it man
You boys have been to Africa?
T: I haven’t been to where I’m from, Nigeria, just yet but I’ve been to the northern part.
A: I grew up in Nigeria from the age of 3 to age 10 before moving to the UK, my Dad’s Nigerian.
My mate Dayo, he was born in England and then he went back to Nigeria when he was 10 as well, to see his family and then he came back to London and now he’s gone back there again and he does a radio show actually, on Metro FM in Lagos. But he said when he went back from London to Lagos he got called “butter boy”, which was the nickname for guys that have gone to England and are a bit soft because they’ve been in England too long.
T: There’s a saying, ‘Ajebutter’, and that’s basically what it means, ‘you’re soft’.
A: To be honest I feel like if I went back, I haven’t been back since I was 10 years old and I’m 24, I feel like they’d be saying the same thing to me. I’ve been completely westernized.
You can’t win. It’s like my wife, who’s from Blackpool, she’s lived in London for years so she’s lost her northern accent… and everyone from London calls her a northerner and then she goes back to Blackpool and they just say “you’re a southerner”.
I’m a big fan of African music, I’ve got some Fela Kuti with me tonight and I’ve already played Hugh Masekela, and I’ve got loads more of African stuff to play. Are you guys fans of Fela Kuti?
O: Yeah, he’s like one of the reasons we started a band, if not THE reason. I think our first gig was probably 60-70% Fela. Our first year or two of having the band was about studying the music, a lot of us studied jazz and you spent years playing classics and playing essentials and we wanted to treat Afrobeat with the same respect so we played a lot of Fela, a lot of highlife… Ebo Taylor, Pat Thomas and loads of people.
I saw Ebo Taylor play live, he did a festival in Walthamstow a few years ago. He was wicked.
A: He’s the father of Highlife music.
He did that tune… Love and Death.
O: That was on our first ever setlist. The whole line at the beginning is killer.
Do you know Fela’s track… Opposite People?
T: I actually grew up on the album when I was younger, my parents would play it non-stop when I was in the car. This music has just been in me, I think it’s just been in all of us, we’ve grown up on it so naturally, it comes out in the music.
That feels like a nice place to wrap up the interview, thank you so much for making the trip over from the Concorde, having a chat and good luck with the gig tonight, I hope it goes well.
O: Thanks for having us.
Jim Lister presents VERSION, fortnightly Sundays on 1BTN, 4-6pm